Christianity 201

July 11, 2022

Temptation is Rooted Within Ourselves, Not God

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:31 pm
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Today’s devotional study was submitted by a writer we’d featured once previously. Luke Wagner who serves as Next Steps Pastor at The Anchor Church in Lawrence, Kansas. You are invited to check out his blog, An Eternal Viewpoint. Clicking the title below will take you to where this devotional first appeared.

In the Midst of Temptation

No temptation has overtaken you that is not common to man. God is faithful, and he will not let you be tempted beyond your ability, but with the temptation he will also provide the way of escape, that you may be able to endure it.

1 Corinthians 10:13

The world we live in is filled with opportunities to surrender our integrity. No matter what age, demographic, culture you come from, or upbringing, the reality of temptation is something every person faces. And with every instance of temptation knocking at our door comes the challenge to wrestle with it mentally, emotionally, and spiritually.

Paul was no stranger to temptation. Neither were the people he ministered to, who were part of the churches he wrote his letters to. That’s why he reminds us that we are not in this struggle alone. More than that, there is no temptation you or I could face that someone hasn’t faced before. I don’t know about you, but I find comfort in that. What I face doesn’t catch God by surprise, and I’m not the only one who has wrestled with it either.

Paul makes an interesting statement next that I think requires us to explore more. There is often times the thought, whether it be conscious or not, that God orchestrates temptation in our life. That when we face temptation it’s because God brought it into our life. The problem is that this thinking contradicts Scripture and God’s very nature. As a Holy God, He cannot commit or cause sin. To do so would be contradictory to who He is. James emphasized this point in his letter when he wrote the following.

Let no one say when he is tempted, “I am being tempted by God,” for God cannot be tempted with evil, and he himself tempts no one. But each person is tempted when he is lured and enticed by his own desire.

James 1:13-14

Temptation is rooted within ourselves, not God. It is the effect of our own desires, rooted in our flesh. God does not tempt, but rather tests us.

That’s an important distinction to understand. Paul is however indicating that God allows us to be tempted. Allowing something to happen is very different from being the cause, and this is the distinction Paul makes. But even with God allowing temptation to take place, Paul makes it clear that He will never allow it to be stronger than my ability to not give in.

Now, this is an interesting point. It’s common for us as people to find excuses for giving into temptation. And the excuse is always rooted in a lack of escape. Paul however makes it very clear that God always provides a way out. The ability to turn away from the temptation is always there, and thus failure to do so is not because we couldn’t.

We fail to turn from temptation because we choose to give in.

When I give into the temptations I face it’s simply because I decided to give in. The reality and truth is that God never allows me to face a challenge I can’t overcome, He always provides a means of escape and endurance. When I fail in my integrity and allow my character to be jeopardized by giving into temptation, I have no one but myself to blame.

But this reality brings to light another truth. My independence will always lead to giving into the temptations I face! If I continue to try and survive on my own, apart from God, I will fail every time. Paul wasn’t saying I have the strength to escape temptation. The fact that God provides the way means the ability to do so rests in Him alone.

God’s strength is the means in which I am able to walk away when I want to look at that site.

God’s strength is the means in which I am able to walk away when I want to steal that item.

God’s strength is the means in which I am able to walk away when I want to tell that lie.

God’s strength is the means in which I can keep my integrity and character intact.

But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me.

2 Corinthians 12:9

Maybe that’s why Paul said these words too. He understood that it was literally in the moments he didn’t have the strength to maintain his integrity that God’s grace and power shined through most. Paul recognized his weakness, and understood where his true strength came from.

Not himself, but God.

What’s your response to temptation when you face it? Do you have a tendency to blame God, especially when you give in? Paul’s words present a challenge to how we view temptation, and calls us to not only see it differently but to act accordingly.

What will you do?

 

May 25, 2022

What if Our Worship Included Practicing Waiting?

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:32 pm
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Last year at this time we introduced Worship Pastor Zak Kratzer who writes at Rediscovering Worship (tag line: “Telling the story of God with the community of God.”) Clicking the header which follows will take you to the page where this first appeared.

Have We Forgotten How to Wait?

As I write this, I get to share a house with a wife who is 37-weeks pregnant. While this in itself is a learning experience, the events of this past week have been very revealing to us. We had a near experience with a possible early delivery of our daughter. We found out Friday that we would not be going to the hospital to get induced after-all. But we are still, at the most, just a few short weeks away. When we talked about it, we realized that we had both mentally prepared for a controlled birth-date and getting on with this delivery. But now we have to wait knowing it could be anytime.

We have little control over how a baby will grow and develop, you can’t just speed up the process like you can with a microwaved meal or a class lecture video on 2X speed (admit it, you’ve done it). There are so many mechanisms in our culture that we use to try and increase efficiency and especially reduce that pesky wait-time. But recently I have asked myself if we lose something when church falls right in-line with a fast and impatient world.

but they who wait
for the Lord shall renew their strength;
they shall mount up with wings like eagles;
they shall run and not be weary;
they shall walk and not faint.

Isaiah 40:31 (ESV)

“Strength will rise as we WAIT upon the Lord” – This is the opening line from a classic Chris Tomlin song based on Isaiah 40:31. I have heard this verse shared in worship many times, but always with the emphasis on the renewal part or the strength part, almost never the waiting. In church we often don’t realize how what we do communicates our values. Patience, stillness and anticipation are so often drowned out by noise even in small things. Even when the congregation is entering or leaving the worship space, most churches have canned music going, along with lights and scrolling announcements. These things are not wrong, but I can’t help but think it reflects our current culture’s need to control the flow of time, reducing the awkwardness of just waiting.

The Authors of a book and founders of a movement called Slow Church, call this “McDonaldization” and it feeds our desires for instant gratification. But the church was always meant to develop the spiritual gift of patience.* God’s kingdom is made up of humans, learning to abide in Him. and as such, we are not machines that can be manipulated for reliable and efficient output. We are more like plants, we require patient work, watering and sun. We require different amounts of these things for different days and seasons. We have productive and fallow seasons. And for all of this, our father is patient with us. He patiently calls us to redemption as we wait for the day of his coming (2 Peter 3).

What would it look like for us to practice waiting together in community and in worship?

I’m not sure if I have all the answers. But I do know that the small things communicate much. What if there were intentional times of silence built in for our community to wait on the Lord? Of course some things you can do to increase the fruit of patience can happen outside of the corporate worship time as well. A church that I used to attend, kept up a community garden at a local elementary school. And we would give the produce away to anyone in need. We had work days every so-often where people could get a taste for gardening and then weeks and weeks later, someone would come share samples of salsa and other products.

Getting connected to the soil reminds us of that many of the things God does, He slowly and patiently. When you think about it, our impatience is a denial of reality. We think that we can triumph over waiting and be filled at our convenience. But this is not how the kingdom of God works. If our waiting for the return of Christ teaches us anything, it’s that things happen on God’s timeline and not ours.

Be patient, therefore, brothers, until the coming of the Lord. See how the farmer waits for the precious fruit of the earth, being patient about it, until it receives the early and the late rains. You also, be patient. Establish your hearts, for the coming of the Lord is at hand.

James 5:7-8 (ESV)

I would challenge us to think through all the ways, our worship is encouraging instant-gratification and convenience and to think through these things and ask if there are ways to cultivate more patience in our community. And as God’s community on earth, how should we be recognizing the slowness of the kingdom as we anticipate the second coming? Like a delivery, it can happen anytime, and yet we patiently and eagerly away it.


*Smith Christopher C. & John Pattison. Slow Church. InterVarsity Press, 2014. pg. 79-80


April 22, 2022

The Unspoken Lie of Genesis 3

For those of you who became subscribers of C201 because of previous contact with my other blog, Thinking Out Loud, you may remember that we occasionally linked to Kuya Kevin, an American living in the Philippines. His real name is Kevin Sanders. We somewhat lost contact with him (my fault, not his) here after running three of his articles here at C201, but this week he landed back on my radar.

His blog is simply titled Pastor Kevin Sanders, and he’s been a pastor in El Paso, Texas (for our Brit friends, it’s right on the border with Mexico) for over 15 years and recently completed his DMin from Gateway Seminary. Clicking the header which follows will take you to his site to read this, which is encouraged.

The Lie Beneath the Lie

Most of us are familiar with the Genesis account of sin entering into the world. The serpent approached Eve and convinced her that the forbidden fruit was the key to realizing her own divine potential:

But the serpent said to the woman, “You will not surely die. For God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.”

Genesis 3:4-5

We know that was a lie: the act of disobedience brought death, not divinity.

But it seems to me there was a lie underneath that lie. It was just as subtle as the serpent that delivered it. This is a lie that assaults the very character of God. Here it is:

“God is holding out on you.”

Believing this lie can lead to at least two terrible outcomes.

The first is outright disobedience. Eve, then Adam took this route. They instantaneously learned a harsh lesson: God’s prohibitions are ultimately for our protection. They exchanged fruit for thorns, paradise for pain, life for death, and glory for dust. Consequence is a cruel teacher for those who disobey God.

The second is bitterness. This may not be outright, external rebellion against God, but it’s just as toxic for the soul. Perhaps the inward, hidden nature of bitterness makes it even worse (or at least harder to recognize) than outward rebellion. The older son’s heart, after all, seemed just as far from his father as those swine his prodigal brother had fed (Luke 15:11-32). Grace and bitterness do not tend to peacefully coexist in the same heart.

I feel I should expound on this second outcome because it is one I am more familiar with than I care to admit. There have been times I have entertained the lie beneath the lie and experienced the bitterness that follows.

Life disappoints us all at some point. Here are just a few examples that come to mind:

  • That attractive man or woman that won’t pay any attention to you.
  • That job or job promotion which should have been yours.
  • That narcissist who has been blessed with so much talent and/or treasure (you, of course, would have used it all selflessly).
  • That hardship or tragedy that your neighbor deserved more than you.

Sometimes we choose to interpret some of these disappointments as God holding out on us. We often look back and see how silly we were to think this way. We realize that God was, indeed, working for our good (Romans 8:28).

We should know better. I should know better–especially when I consider that God “did not spare His own Son” for my sake (Romans 8:32).

Lord, you have loved me perfectly and blessed me more than I will ever deserve. Forgive me for those times I have failed to trust You. May I always guard my heart against lies and bitterness.


Second Helping: By the same author, The Advance of the Gospel in an Evil World

January 30, 2022

Does God Move in Mysterious Ways?

You’ve heard the phrase.

Probably it was spoken as “The Lord moves in mysterious ways;” or as “God moves in mysterious ways.” Or something like that.

But there’s no chapter and verse at which you’ll find that as a Bible quotation. However, one doesn’t find the word “trinity” in the Bible, either, but that doesn’t mean it’s not a valid expression of the nature of the three-in-one Godhead.

So is the statement true?

An article at CompellingTruth.org begins with these words,

When someone says that God works in mysterious ways, they often mean that God does something completely opposite of our expectations. There are many places in the Bible that tell stories of God’s direction in someone’s life that leads that person down a road they never thought they would tread. Sometimes God tells His people to do things that seem strange or even meaningless, but end up being a redemptive or victorious part of their story…

While the mystery of God may seem very vague, one can take great comfort in the idea that God is always at work, always hovering in the background orchestrating situations in ways we can’t begin to imagine.

It’s that last phrase — we can’t begin to imagine — that is critical to our understanding the ways of God and the nature of God.

In Habakkuk 1:5, the prophet tells the people,

The LORD replied, “Look around at the nations; look and be amazed! For I am doing something in your own day, something you wouldn’t believe even if someone told you about it. (NLT)

Ecclesiastes 11:5 is also an interesting verse in this context. The Living Bible (a prototype for what later became the NLT) reads,

God’s ways are as mysterious as the pathway of the wind and as the manner in which a human spirit is infused into the little body of a baby while it is yet in its mother’s womb. (LB)

A phrase that often comes to mind in discussions like this is that God’s ways are higher than ours. That’s found in Isaiah 55:8-9

For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, declares the Lord. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts. (ESV)

The phrase itself actually comes from an 18th Century hymn by William Cowper.

God moves in a mysterious way
His wonders to perform;
He plants His footsteps in the sea
And rides upon the storm.

The website Faith is the Evidence quotes more of the lyrics and shares several supporting scripture texts including this one from Romans 11:33-36

33 We cannot wrap our minds around God’s wisdom and knowledge! Its depths can never be measured! We cannot understand His judgments or explain the mysterious ways that He works! For,

34 Who can fathom the mind of the Lord?
    Or who can claim to be His advisor?[Isaiah 40:13]

35 Or,

Who can give to God in advance
    so that God must pay him back?[Job 41:11]

36 For all that exists originates in Him, comes through Him, and is moving toward Him; so give Him the glory forever. Amen. (The Voice Bible)

In addition to the scripture references, the site states two important principles. First:

We can know God but we can never really comprehend everything about Him.

and

God does things that are beyond our limited experience and  ability to comprehend.  

where this verse is included; Deuteronomy 29:29

The secret things belong to the Lord our God, but the things which are revealed and disclosed belong to us and to our children forever, so that we may do all of the words of this law. (AMP)

So the statement is true, even though it’s not an actual scripture text. The next time you hear someone use it, you might consider that a great springboard for discussion about the greatness and awesomeness of God, or sharing how he’s moved in unique ways in your own life.

 

 

 
Modern version:

 

January 10, 2022

God Sees us as Beautiful | God is on Our Side

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:33 pm
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Today we have a double-header for you!

A year ago we introduced you to Rolain Peterson in Zimbabwe and his blog, which he’s been writing, as of this month for ten years, called Kingspeech. He is the author of the 31-day digital devotional, Rise Above Fear. You’re invited to encourage Rolain by reading this at his site by clicking the headers which follow on the two devotionals featured today.

The Beautiful Story of Our Lives

As I look at myself and all the imperfections I have, all the mistakes and sins I continually make I am humbled by the Lord’s grace and mercy He has extended to me.

That’s not just my story but it’s OUR story.

God in his mercy and grace doesn’t leave us in our mess.

He cleans us up and changes us.

He forgives us and gives us a second chance.

And that is what I call the beautiful story of our lives because His love is beautiful.

I think of the woman in Luke 7:37 who the bible tells us was a sinner. We don’t know exactly what she did but it is clear she was not popular in her community.

“When the Pharisee who had invited him saw this, he said to himself, “if this man were a prophet, he would have known who is touching him and what kind of woman she is – that she is a sinner.” – Luke 7:39

But even though the Pharisee had written her off as a lost cause, Jesus saw her differently.

He loved her and forgave her despite knowing all her sins. He didn’t reject her and cast her away.

So don’t listen to the lies that say you cannot be forgiven.

Don’t allow people to tell you that you are a lost cause. That’s not true.

Jesus loves you and extends grace, mercy and forgiveness to you no matter how badly you have messed up.

You can go to Him for help anytime.

God loves To Come Through For Us

“But she said, “I swear by the Lord your God that I don’t have a single piece of bread in the house. And I have only a handful of flour left in the jar and a little cooking oil in the bottom of the jug. I was just gathering a few sticks to cook this last meal, and then my son and I will die.”   – 1 Kings 17: 12

The widow at Zarephath was in a crisis. The little food she had left was about to run out.

She had gone to gather a few sticks she could use to cook the last meal for her and her son then die.

Like I said, crisis.

But God came through for her. He sent Elijah and when she obeyed him by making him a meal first, the Lord provided for her in an amazing way.

“So she did as Elijah said, and she and Elijah and her family continued to eat for many days. There was always enough flour and olive oil left in the containers, just as the Lord had promised through Elijah.” – 1 Kings 17:15, 16

I share this scripture because it teaches us a truth about our God – He loves to come through for us.

  • No matter how bad things get God has got your back.
  • No matter how deep you are in trouble, God will help you out.
  • When there seems to be no way out of the trouble you face, He will ALWAYS come through for you.

Throughout scripture we see this truth play out over and over and over.

  • With Daniel when he was thrown in the lions den
  • With David, when King Saul was hunting him down
  • When Hannah was being ridiculed for being barren
  • When the Israelites were trapped by the Red Sea as the Egyptians chased them

I could go on and on but I think you get the picture.

God loves to come through for you.

So in whatever trouble you find yourself no matter how bad it is, remember that God is for you. He wants to help you.

Ask for His help always!

Bless you, friends.

January 8, 2022

Bible Imagery: Rock and Stars

Today we’re back with Nancy Ruegg who is now into her tenth year writing at From the Inside Out | Impressions Becoming Expressions. Please don’t read this here. Nancy has some photographic images which accompany this devotional, so click the header which follows immediately below.

From Earth and Sky

The psalmists of old seemed to have a favorite metaphor for God: Rock. You’ll find the imagery used twenty-nine times.  Sometimes the writers included reasons why this was a meaningful comparison for them; sometimes they included synonyms:

  • “The Lord is my rock, my fortress” (18:2)
  • “My God is my rock, in whom I take refuge, my shield . . . my  stronghold” (also 18:2)
  • “Lead me to the rock that is higher than I” (61:2)
  • “God alone is the mighty rock that keeps me safe” (62:2 CEV)
  • “Be to me a rock of habitation to which I may continually come” (71:3 NASB)

Later when he became king, David composed Psalm 18, probably after the numerous battle victories summarized in 2 Samuel 8.  Four times in that psalm he extolled God as his Rock.

In the New Testament we find Jesus’ parable about a foolish man building his house on sand, and a wise man building his house on rock. The point is clear: God is a reliable foundation-Rock on which to build our lives.  He provides:

  • solid, trustworthy wisdom for decisions
  • strength and power for life’s challenges
  • protection from our arch enemy, Satan
  • unchanging reliability, faithfulness, and love—to name a few unfailing attributes

One of my favorite examples of Bible imagery is found in Philippians 2:15.  To understand the context though, we have to start reading at verse fourteen:

Do everything without grumbling or arguing,
so that you may become blameless and pure,
children of God without fault in a warped and crooked generation.
Then you will shine among them like stars in the sky
as you hold firmly to the word of life.

–Philippians 2:14-15 NIV

Isn’t that a glorious statement in the fourth line above?  We can shine into the darkness of the world like stars as we allow the Spirit to foster purity within us!

Now why would letter-writer Paul choose stars to make his point? Perhaps their beauty reminded him: with kindness, patience, joy, and more we can bring beauty to the world around us–a world darkened by selfishness, greed, and hatred.

Paul would also have known about using stars for navigation. As far back as 3000 B.C. ancient Minoans were using constellations to navigate the Mediterranean Sea (1). Perhaps Paul connected the starlight to God’s wisdom shining in mature believers, enabling them to provide guidance to those around them.

But now, centuries later, we know more about stars than Paul did and further comparisons can be drawn:

Stars shine by burning hydrogen into helium in their cores. We shine as the Holy Spirit burns away the dross in our lives—those unbecoming traits like pride, negativity, and ingratitude. That’s when we can become radiant.

NIV.2.Cor.3.18 And we all,
who with unveiled faces
contemplate the Lord’s glory,
are being transformed into his image
with ever-increasing glory,
which comes from the Lord,
who is the Spirit.

One prominent star in the evening sky of Fall and Winter is Deneb in the constellation Cygnus (the Swan), which is 19 quadrillion miles from earth.  The gleam we see left Deneb about 1500 light years ago in 521 A.D (2). The gleam of our lives can also achieve far-reaching effect as one life touches another which touches another, and then another . . . ad infinitum.

Stars not only create beauty but fulfill function.  They manufacture and distribute into the universe such elements as carbon, nitrogen, and oxygen (3). As we shine like stars in our circles of influence, we too fulfill function, manufacturing and distributing such elements as goodness, encouragement, and helpfulness.

From earth and sky come these two insightful examples of biblical imagery:  rock and stars.

Do you see the connection between the two? As you plant yourself on the firm Rock of Almighty God and shine for him like a star . . .

. . . YOU are a Rock star!


Notes:

  1. https://nationalgeographic.org/encyclopedia/navigation/
  2. https://earthsky.org/space/ten-things-you-may-not-know-about-stars/
  3. https://science.nasa.gov/astrophysics/focus-areas/how-do-stars-from-and-evolve

By the same author:

God of the Unexpected

 

 

December 15, 2021

Sin: The Great Separator

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:33 pm
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But your iniquities have separated you from your God; your sins have hidden his face from you, so that he will not hear. – Isaiah 59:2 NIV

Every so often I discover a writer online and wonder why we didn’t encounter them earlier. Doug Eaton lives in greater Los Angeles, and writes at Flight of Faith, and is also Director of Admissions at Trinity Law School, which upholds Judeo-Christian principles in legal training. (He’s also periodically writes about early CCM, Contemporary Christian Music.) The article below was a perfect fit for what we do here at C201, so we’re thankful to be able to highlight his writing. Click the header which follows to read this where we sourced it, and then take a few minutes to look around his site using the menu.

The Four Separations of Sin

Right now, you and I are experiencing the effects of sin, even if we are not conscious of it. When Adam fell and sin entered this world, it wreaked all kinds of havoc. One of sin’s most detrimental effects is that it causes separation, specifically, four types of separation. Francis Schaeffer once laid these out in his book, Genesis in Space and Time. Though all four separations are devastating, I will work from the least to most significant.

1. Separation from Nature

At this moment, nature is not at rest. As beautiful as it is and declaring the glory of God (Psalm 19:1), scripture says it is currently in the pangs of childbirth, waiting for all things to be set right (Romans 8:22). Sometimes referred to as natural evil, this world is filled with hurricanes, tornadoes, tsunamis, earthquakes, and many other natural disasters. Even animal life is red in tooth and claw. Humanity was created to live in harmony and dominion over nature. The creation mandate was to be fruitful and multiply and work the land as good stewards, Adam’s sin, along with our own, has perverted this work, and even nature is crying out for redemption. We must now work the land with the sweat of our brow, fighting against thorns and thistles which remind us that things are not the way they should be (Genesis 3:18). God is using nature to reveal his judgment against sin.

2. Separation of Mankind from Himself

We are also experiencing separation within ourselves. This is sometimes called psychological separation, but there is more to it than psychology. We are no longer at peace with ourselves. We have psychological issues. We deal with fear, anxiety, depression, loneliness, and many other issues. In our attempts to cover our internal conflict, we deceive ourselves and others. The truth we know about God we attempt to suppress to clear our consciences (Romans 1:18), but it will never work. In relation to the separation of sin in nature, even our bodies rebel against us; we must fight aging and decay. If that is not enough, we must also contend with disease and disorder. In the end, something will cause our bodies to die, which separates our souls from our bodies. The only reason this separation occurs is because of sin.

3. Separation from Each Other

Not only has sin caused separation within ourselves, but it also leads to separation from each other. We were created to live in unity, but sin made us skeptical of ourselves and therefore skeptical of each other. It did not take long after Adam and Eve fell for them to begin blaming each other (Genesis 3:12). And it was not much later the first murder took place, and that was between brothers (Genesis 4:8). All wars, racism, political hatred, to name a few social pathologies, grow from this root.

4. Separation from God

The fourth separation is the one most frequently cited. Sin has separated us from God; this is sometimes called theological separation. It is the most significant because the other three flow from this one. Instead of being in a right relationship with him, we come into this world at enmity with our creator (James 4:4). Not only do our sinful desires drive us to rebel against him, seek autonomy, and suppress the knowledge we do have of him, since God is just, it causes us to be under his wrath. A just God cannot simply ignore sin. A god who does not take sin seriously is not just; he is evil. For God to end our separation from him, he must be both just and the justifier of sinners (Romans 3:26). Though this may seem like an unsolvable logical problem, God speaks to us through scripture and says, “Come let us reason together, though your sins are as scarlet they will be white as snow (Isaiah 1:18).”

The Answer

One day, in the city of Bethlehem, a child was born: Christ the Lord. God himself, the second person of the Trinity, took on flesh and walked amongst us. His name was Jesus, and he came to save his people from their sins (Matthew 1:21). He lived the perfect life we could not, then died on the cross, taking the wrath our sins deserved, making a way for us to be in a right relationship with him again. Those who place their faith in him will find forgiveness and become sons and daughters of God, no longer at enmity with him.

All who call on the name of the Lord will be saved (Romans 1:13). We can live with him the rest of our days, finding peace with God, until he returns to set all things right. Eventually, all four separations caused by sin will be reconciled. Even death itself will be no more, for he defeated it on the cross and resurrected, never to die again. He is the firstborn of the dead, and all who believe in him will rise as well and live eternally with him (Colossian 1:18). Eventually, there will be a new heaven and a new earth, where the lion will lay down with the lamb, wars will cease (Revelation 21). Every effect of sin will be no more because Jesus conquered it on the cross.


Second Helping: We often leave you with another suggested article by the same writer, but this time we want to alert you to a sub-section of Doug’s website containing articles on the theme of apologetics. Or just go directly to this one.

November 3, 2021

Can God’s Love Be Described as Reckless?

Luke 15:11b [Jesus teaching] “There was a man who had two sons. 12 And the younger of them said to his father, ‘Father, give me the share of property that is coming to me.’ And he divided his property between them…”

Often here we begin with a devotional study and then end with a worship video. Today, I want to begin with the song, Reckless Love. This is actually the second time this has appeared. In the four years since I first looked at this, discussion about the song has continued to be heated, while on the other hand, the song itself has continued to be a popular worship song choice in many churches.

The following is a shorter (5½ minute) version of the song originally by Bethel Worship.

Before I spoke a word
You were singing over me
You have been so, so
Good to me
Before I took a breath
You breathed Your life in me
You have been so, so
Kind to me

Oh, the overwhelming, never-ending, reckless love of God
Oh, it chases me down, fights ’til I’m found, leaves the ninety-nine
I couldn’t earn it
I don’t deserve it
Still You give yourself away
Oh, the overwhelming, never-ending, reckless love of God

When I was your foe, still Your love fought for me
You have been so, so
Good to me
When I felt no worth
You paid it all for me
You have been so, so
Kind to me

Oh, the overwhelming, never-ending, reckless love of God
Oh, it chases me down, fights ’til I’m found, leaves the ninety-nine…

There’s no shadow You won’t light up
Mountain You won’t climb up
Coming after me
There’s no wall You won’t kick down
No lie You won’t tear down
Coming after me

Oh, the overwhelming, never-ending, reckless love of God…

My wife and I have had many discussions about this song since its introduction. The idea of a God who will “lavish his love” on us is found in the parable we call The Prodigal Son. We often think that prodigal means runaway, or someone who leaves and returns, but the word’s origins have to do with his spendthrift nature; how he burns through his cash reserves — with abandon.

But in the book The Prodigal God, Tim Keller points out that it is the father in the story who is free-spending. We actually see this twice.

First, he quickly gives away the inheritance to the son. Notice how quickly this is established in the key verse above. Some have said about this story that he knows he needs to lose his son in order to gain him back. There’s an interesting parallel here to 1 Corinthians 5:5 that we don’t have time to explore fully; [H]and this man over to Satan for the destruction of the flesh, so that his spirit may be saved on the day of the Lord.

Second, he is equally free-spending when the son returns, throwing a huge party.

22 But the father said to his servants, ‘Bring quickly the best robe, and put it on him, and put a ring on his hand, and shoes on his feet. 23 And bring the fattened calf and kill it, and let us eat and celebrate. 24 For this my son was dead, and is alive again; he was lost, and is found.’ And they began to celebrate. (Luke 15)

Reviewing Keller’s book many years ago, I noted,

  • “Prodigal” means “spendthrift”, which also means “reckless”
  • The father in the story is reckless in his willingness to forgive and reinstate the son
  • The father in the story represents God
  • God is “reckless” in that he chooses not to “reckon” our sin; instead offering forgiveness.

Others have noted the character of the Father in his willingness to run to meet his son while he is still in the distance. In a sermon titled, The God Who Runs Martin Ellgar writes,

He sees him coming in the distance and with joy runs out to greet him. In this way he brings honour again to his son. In the eyes of his neighbours, such behaviour of a man towards his disgraced son is disgraceful and unwarranted in itself. He has humiliated himself before others. The loving father has not only gone out eagerly to meet his returning son, but has willingly sacrificed himself to share in and to relieve the humiliation of the returning son.

To me this parable is central to lyrics of the song above.

However, we can’t leave the song there because much has been made of the lyric leaves the ninety-nine. It’s unfortunate that even among Christians, as we face declining Biblical literacy, we need to stop and explain this. Earlier generations — and hopefully readers here — would pick up on the reference immediately.

Interestingly enough, as I prepared this, I realized that the story is actually part of the trio of parables in Luke 15 of which The Prodigal Son is the third. (Maybe that was partly what drew me to the third story as an illustration of God’s lavish love.)

4 “Which one of you, having a hundred sheep and losing one of them, does not leave the ninety-nine in the wilderness and go after the one that is lost until he finds it? 5 When he has found it, he lays it on his shoulders and rejoices. 6 And when he comes home, he calls together his friends and neighbors, saying to them, ‘Rejoice with me, for I have found my sheep that was lost.’ 7 Just so, I tell you, there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who need no repentance.

God desires to lavish his love on you. Are you ready to receive it?


Further Reading: The Father’s Love Letter (presented in your choice of text, audio, or video and available in over 100 languages.)


I mentioned that my wife and I had been discussing this song.  Sometimes I will workshop an idea for a devotional with friends online, and my friend Martin of Live To Tell agreed with her somewhat:

If we open dictionary.com, we have this:

1. utterly unconcerned about the consequences of some action; without caution; careless (usually followed by of):  to be reckless of danger.
2. characterized by or proceeding from such carelessness: reckless extravagance.

I can’t get my head around the concept that God’s love is ‘careless’ or ‘unconcerned with the consequences of some action’. Just a bad choice of descriptors in my mind.

I guess it depends how you react to that one word.

Words do matter. What do you think?

September 26, 2021

“There is No Shadow of Turning with Thee”

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:33 pm
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There are Biblical phrases which have a beauty to them in older Bible versions that some might feel gets lost in modern translations, although, if the translators are doing their jobs correctly, the meaning should stay the same.

Some may know the phrase, “There is no shadow of turning with thee;” from the scriptures (though that’s not a direct quotation) but I’m betting that more readers here — including some younger readers — know it from the hymn Great Is Thy Faithfulness.

The hymn’s title phrase is from the book of Lamentations,

Yet this I call to mind and therefore I have hope:
Because of the LORD’s great love we are not consumed, for his compassions never fail.
They are new every morning; great is your faithfulness. (3:21-23 NIV);

but the next line is from the book of James. In the KJV, which was probably the version before the hymn writer, 1:17 reads

Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, and cometh down from the Father of lights, with whom is no variableness, neither shadow of turning.

The blog, An Open Orthodoxy takes the time to show us other renderings,

NLT: “He never changes or casts a shifting shadow.”
ESV: “…with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change.”
NASB: “…with whom there is no variation or shifting shadow.”
RSV: “…with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change.”
RSVn: “with whom there is no variation due to a shadow of turning.”

In the Biblical Hermeneutics section of Stack Exchange, there is the same analogy that my wife suggested when we discussed this earlier today:

The ‘shadow of turning’ I can only assume to refer to a sundial, whose shadow turns as the sun moves. Or, in extension, to any object which might be used as a dial to monitor the sun’s movement ; even a tree in a field can have sticks poked around it in the ground which will, as long as clouds interfere not, tell the workers when to have a break and when to go home. ‘When the shadow reaches the eighth stick, you can go.’

But God is Light, 1 John 1:5, or, more strictly, ‘God light is’ – an equivalence in apposition.

Thus if all is bathed in light, rather than a single point-source giving illumination, there will be no shadow.

That was the first of three comments on the forum, and the third dared to get into a discussion of sunspots, but you can use the link and check that for yourself!

There was only one answer at the forum eBible,

In my opinion, James in this verse is contrasting God the Father with the movement of heavenly bodies (including the sun and moon) that exhibit differing levels of illumination, or changes in the shadows that they cast, as they “turn” (that is, as their position or appearance in relation to the earth changes).

The Father does not possess this variability. He is the “Father of lights”, and is the same from eternity past to eternity future. As such, He is a continuing source of gifts, even to the unjust … but especially to those who seek Him and His will through Christ, and to whom He is faithful in keeping His promises.

At the site, Reflections in the Word, there is a short devotional application to all this:

How can there be all that light and the earth still gets dark? It’s because the earth turns. The earth gets dark because the earth is spinning on its’ axis. Therefore, the side that faces the sun gets light and the side that is facing away does not.

If there is darkness in your life, it’s not because God, the Father of Lights is turning; it’s because you are turning. He is the Father of Lights and in Him there is no shadow. There is no darkness in Him.

Because God is faithful, He’s consistent. Just like the sun, He is always shining and in His light there is no shifting or moving shadow. We just have to make sure we are turned toward Him to experience the fullness of His Light.

At the blog, A Pilgrim’s Theology, there is a mention of 1 John 1:5: “God is light, and in him is no darkness at all” and Malachi 3:16 “I the LORD do not change. So you, the descendants of Jacob, are not destroyed; followed by,

…The literalistic but memorable turn of phrase “no … shadow of turning” used in the KJV, even if not an exact representation of the semantic equivalent of the metaphor that James uses, captures the notion of God’s faithfulness and steadiness. Given the instability of the world in which the nascent community of believers lived, the solidity and reliability of the wisdom of God was important, and the steadiness of the believers as lights is an important corollary in demonstrating that divine wisdom to the world.”

While we won’t quote it, for all the mathematics nerds reading, the blog Edge Induced Cohesion examines the verse in the light of calculus. (That one was above my pay grade!)

Going back to An Open Orthodoxy (linked above), the author offers a different perspective,

…I’d like to suggest that the point of the illustration is to make it clear that God is unlike objects which cast a shadow when held to the light of the sun because God cannot conceivably be thought to stand in the light of any reality or truth other than himself. Objects cast shadows because they are passive in relation to a source of light outside themselves which they reflect and according to which they cast a shadow, revealing their form. The only thing that can cast a shadow is that object whose substance reflects light cast upon it from a source outside itself, and its shadow is the outline of its reflected form. Its shadow shifts and changes as the object moves relative to the light. Everything on earth reflects the sun’s light in this way.

To say God “casts no shifting shadow” or that God is he “in whom there is no variation of shifting shadow” is to say (among other things) that God does not stand in the light of some measurement, that God’s reality casts no shadow because there is no reality outside God whose light or presence or truth God can be said to reflect and in reflecting reveal his form or substance, that God’s gifts do not reflect a goodness other than God.

For those who wish a new theological term for today, all of this is reflective of God’s divine impassibility.

 

 

 

 

August 21, 2021

Malformed Views of God

Jesus answered: “Don’t you know me, Philip, even after I have been among you such a long time? Anyone who has seen me has seen the Father. How can you say, ‘Show us the Father’? – John 14:9 NIV

You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart. – Jeremiah 29:13 NIV
 

Almost exactly ten years ago, while looking for something else, a copy of Your God Is Too Small by J. B. Phillips fell into my hands.  He is the same person who did the Phillips translation of The New Testament.

This 124-page pocket book is usually remembered for its first 59 pages which focus on a number of “wrong pictures” we have of God, and while I know that C201 readers would never fall into one of these errant views, I believe that we often partially fall into looking at God in one of these stereotyped forms.

Furthermore, it could be argued that many of our doctrinal distinctives resulting in various sects and denominations of Christianity have their origin in the different aspects and attributes of God’s character that were emphasized by different groups. For example, I would argue that the differences between Calvinist theology and Arminian theology have less to do with the individual doctrines, and more to do with the picture of God which gave birth to those doctrines.

(On a personal level, I would say my understanding of deconstructing faith is better expressed in terms of remodeling.)

Getting back to more basic distinctives in our God-view, here’s a quick paraphrase of the types Phillips lists:

  • Policeman — an image usually formed out of a ‘guilt-based’ response to God
  • Parental hangover — the Father image of God evokes images of an earthly father which is often more negative than positive, particularly when there was abuse or addiction in the picture
  • Grand Old Man — the head of the seniors group perhaps, or president of the service club; but the danger is the ‘old’ part if it implies irrelevance
  • Meek and Mild — an example, Phillips would argue, of a Sunday School chorus influencing theology which we might want to keep in mind when choosing modern worship pieces for weekend services
  • Absolute Perfection — which leads to us trying to be absolutely perfect even though we don’t often grasp what it means; or thinking God isn’t interested in us when we’re not perfect
  • Heavenly Bosom — a variation perhaps on burying our head in the sand; we bury ourselves in God as a kind of escapism
  • God in a Box — what I think Phillips is intending describes people whose image of God has been shaped by subjective experience in local churches or denominations; or conversely, is defined by the beliefs of his or her denomination
  • Managing Director — with an emphasis on God as “controller,” this image evokes another metaphor: puppet string God
  • Second-Hand God — a longer section; it might be summarized as variations on the God-picture we would get from having seen a single movie or read a single book about God and built everything else up from there; a situation common today where people know “just enough” about God to think they know about God
  • Perennial Grievance — whatever the God-view the person holds, this one is ever mindful of the time that God let them down them; disappointed them; etc.
  • Pale Galilean — an image Phillips uses to describe people whose faith is lacking vitality and courage; or whose loyalty is fragile
  • Projected Image — which we would describe today as “creating God in our image.”

Do you ever find yourself falling into any of these mistaken views of God?

While the terminology might not be readily used today; the book is fairly thorough about describing the full range of false views about God that can exist.  I felt led to share this here, but then needed to come up with some resolve to this.  Phillips views the first half of his book as deconstructive and follows it with a constructive second half.

With the phrase, “deconstructing my faith” being so commonly used in 2021, I think we need to recognize that what is so often happening is better described when we lessen the emphasis on the first word, “deconstructing” and place that emphasis on the second word, “my.” It’s often my version of God that needs to be deconstructed.

What I want to do here instead, is end with a quotation I’ve used before, but which I believe everyone should commit to memory. Say this out loud, placing the stress on the words in italics:

When we say we begin with God, we begin with our idea of God, and our idea of God is not God.   Instead, we ought to begin with God’s idea of God, and God’s idea of God is Christ.

~E. Stanley Jones

Further reading:  If you can get your hands on this out-of-print book, look for Jarrett Stevens’ The Deity Formerly Known as God (Zondervan) which is an updated version of Phillips’ classic.

If you can’t find it, get the original by Phillips, which after all these years is still in print!

 

June 17, 2021

When We Live in a Loveless World

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:33 pm
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Thinking Through 1st John 4:7-21

by Clarke Dixon

Does it ever seem like love is just a luxury? It would be nice to have, but . . . not happening. In buying a new car, you could have the heated and cooled leather seats, plus a high end sound system for just a few thousand dollars more. That would be nice, but . . . not happening. You are buying used anyway, so you settle for vinyl seats and am radio with 8-track. Yes, I’m old enough to remember those.

We settle for a loveless world.

Some settle for a loveless marriage, whether love is thought of as romance, commitment, or friendship. Some settle for a marriage where there is none of the above. Some settle for loveless family relationships, or work environments. Some settle for a loveless life.

Love can seem to be a luxury, nice to have, but . . . not happening. And we settle for a life without love. We settle for a loveless world.

When we follow Jesus, we don’t settle. We can’t settle. Here are a few things we do instead as found in 1st John 4:7-22.

First, we experience love from the original source of love.

Beloved, let us love one another, because love is from God; everyone who loves is born of God and knows God. Whoever does not love does not know God, for God is love. God’s love was revealed among us in this way: God sent his only Son into the world so that we might live through him. In this is love, not that we loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the atoning sacrifice for our sins

1 John 4:7-10 (NRSV emphasis added)

With God, love comes standard, meaning God’s love for us. When we think we live in a loveless world, let us be aware of God’s love, let us be be loved by God. We will discover that this is not a loveless world after all.

Second, we love.

Beloved, let us love one another, because love is from God; everyone who loves is born of God and knows God. Whoever does not love does not know God, for God is love. . . . Beloved, since God loved us so much, we also ought to love one another. No one has ever seen God; if we love one another, God lives in us, and his love is perfected in us. . . . We love because he first loved us. Those who say, “I love God,” and hate their brothers or sisters, are liars; for those who do not love a brother or sister whom they have seen, cannot love God whom they have not seen. The commandment we have from him is this: those who love God must love their brothers and sisters also.

1 John 4:7,8, 11,12,19-21 (NRSV)

With God, love comes standard, meaning our growing love for others. We think we live in a loveless world, but it won’t be loveless for long if we take the intuitive to love. If we find ourselves in a loveless marriage, a loveless family, or a loveless work environment, let’s bring the love. This cannot be a loveless world because, well, we are in it, and we are learning to love others as God loves us.

Third, we trade in our insecurities about being loved for confidence.

It is a human thing to be insecure, to think “nobody loves me.” In fact we can convince ourselves of that even when it is not true. We might think no one loves us when the truth is, we have no love for ourselves.

We have good reason to trade in our insecurities:

So we have known and believe the love that God has for us. God is love, and those who abide in love abide in God, and God abides in them. Love has been perfected among us in this: that we may have boldness on the day of judgment, because as he is, so are we in this world. There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear; for fear has to do with punishment, and whoever fears has not reached perfection in love. We love because he first loved us.

1 John 4:16-19 (NRSV)

We have good reason to have confidence that God loves us. We are not really living the Christian life if we are constantly wondering if we will go to hell if we do this, that, or the other thing, or fail to do this, that, or the other thing. The Christian life is not a life of fear, but a life of confident living in Christ and serving in the world.

For many people, fear comes standard with religion. For the Christian, love comes standard with God. Let love be the standard, not fear.

We can be bold and fearless because God took the first step of love toward us:

In this is love, not that we loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the atoning sacrifice for our sins. . . . We love because he first loved us.

1 John 4:10,19 (NRSV)

I remember well the fear I felt when I asked my wife out on our first date. I took the first step and was not sure it would go well, but she was (and is) super cute and there was no way I was not going to ask. I’m glad I did!

With God, we never take the first step. We are not the ones going to God looking for a relationship. God approached us first, we know his intentions and desire for a relationship. At the cross we see the lengths God is willing to go to for that relationship. We don’t go to God wondering, will God say yes? God has already asked you out, go ahead and give God your number already!

With God, love comes standard. When we think we live in a loveless world, let us open our eyes enough to see and experience the love God has for us. Let us trade in our insecurity and fear for confidence.

Conclusion

According to John, love is not an option in our relationship with God. Neither should we think of it as an option in our relationship with others, or ourselves.

In a world that seems so unloving, where love seems like a luxury we can’t ever have, let us love and be loved! With God, love comes standard.

(Video is available for the full sermon or it can be seen as part of this “online worship expression”)

May 16, 2021

The Enduring and Beloved Shepherd Psalm

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:33 pm
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Psalm 23 in The Message Bible (since most of you know it in more traditional texts)

1-3 God, my shepherd!
    I don’t need a thing.
You have bedded me down in lush meadows,
    you find me quiet pools to drink from.
True to your word,
    you let me catch my breath
    and send me in the right direction.

Even when the way goes through
    Death Valley,
I’m not afraid
    when you walk at my side.
Your trusty shepherd’s crook
    makes me feel secure.

You serve me a six-course dinner
    right in front of my enemies.
You revive my drooping head;
    my cup brims with blessing.

Your beauty and love chase after me
    every day of my life.
I’m back home in the house of God
    for the rest of my life.

From Melvin Banks at Urban Faith:

A professional speaker recited Psalm 23 and people went wild with applause. A saintly old man quoted it, no one applauded, but tears filled their eyes. What made the difference? The first speaker knew the Psalm, the second knew the shepherd.

I watched a few online church services this weekend and in one, Psalm 23 was read, or perhaps better to say quoted from memory. There are 150 Psalms, and a voice in my head asked, ‘Why this particular Psalm?’ Indeed, why is so loved through the centuries?

John Brantley writes at the blog My Sunday Sermons:

…The are two scenes in this song. One verse is a lush green field beside a refreshing stream and the other is at a noisy and busy dinner party. What do these two portents have in common and what makes them relevant for you and me?

Our culture is adopting the idea that “green” is good. This first part of the psalm is very green. Can you smell the fresh green grass? The sparkling clear water babbling by an ancient tree with broad branches and deep roots. There are other signs and smells that may be organic, but are not that green. Sheep are not known for their pleasing aroma. Every herd of animals leave a trail of processes green grass that the shepherd learns to step around. But let’s not lose the romantic and clean image just yet.

The comforting message of the first scene is the restoring and renewing experience of God. God can be trusted like sheep trust the good shepherd to provide food and drink, rest and growth. One message this psalm affirms is God’s continues to be trustworthy to provide for our growth, health and protection.

Life is not always in the green pastures. God provides even in the reality of life-threatening times. The Valley of the Shadow of Death.. might refer to an actual geographical bend in the road between Jericho and Jerusalem, and it might be metaphorical of life-and-death moments that come and go in our lives.

Where is God when danger, temptation and death surround us? We want to go back to the green pastures but sometimes that is not where we are. We are in trouble. God does not keep us out of the the shadowy valleys, instead God goes with us on the journey.

We thing God ought to hear our prayers and transport us out of tragedy or trouble, but that is not what happens 99.9999 percent of the time. The songs sings of the shepherd ‘rod and staff’. The staff is the long crook of nativity fame that is for rescuing wandering sheep. The rod is to beat off the enemies of the sheep, defending not chastising the sheep.

We are familiar with the proverb, “do not spare the rod” in child rearing. If we look at the function of the rod it is not to beat the sheep, it is to protect them. If we take that function of the ‘rod’ and read that as the proverb, our children need protecting from the evil in the world. As children of God, we need God protecting us, as much now, as ever.

Think of fishing with a baseball bat? You could tie a string to one end and dangle it over the water, but that is not it’s function. You could use a fishing pole to tan-someone-hide, but that is not it’s function. The rod protects the sheep. And in this evil generation, how we need God’s protection! …

At the New Living Translation blog, Mark Taylor writes:

Psalm 23 is the best-known psalm and the favorite biblical passage of many. Why? Because it does more than tell us that God protects, guides, and blesses. It shows us a poetic image of a powerless sheep being tended by an unfailingly careful shepherd. In a world of dangerous ditches and ravenous wolves, we need more than abstract explanations. We need pictures to hang on to. This is one of the best.

God took David from tending his father’s sheep and made him a shepherd of Israel because David was able to care for this flock with a tender heart and great skill. That tells us volumes about not only the kind of shepherd God chooses but the kind of shepherd he is. God is a zealous protector of his sheep, training us to hear his voice, leading us into pleasant pastures, and even walking with us through the darkest valleys. And he is extravagant in his goodness. He doesn’t just feed us; he prepares a feast in the presence of our enemies. He doesn’t just bless us; he fills our cup to overflowing. He doesn’t just offer his goodness and love; he pursues us with them. We aren’t simply his assignment; we are his passion—forever.

Several answers appear at the forum, Quora

■ Who doesn’t want somebody who has their back? We all want a big brother to keep an eye on us. In some situations, people find it to be to their advantage to buddy up to the neighborhood bully. Everybody needs somebody to lean on, right?

So, the LORD is my shepherd. That means he takes care of my food and safety. He is interested in my emotional health. He helps me make moral choices. And when times get tough, I mean really tough, life threatening tough, he sticks by me.

Psalm 23 , I believe, is a concise outline of what a person can expect if they allow God to be their Shepherd through this life. It is so amazingly concise and to the point…. a marvelous Word from God!

■ Would it not be logical to conclude that it is famous because it touches upon issues that are of deep and universal concern to human beings, that it supplies a positive perspective and solution to these issues, and that it does so in such beautiful language as we may easily believe it is divinely inspired?

It seems to me that the issue of being guided by God is the central concern of the entire Bible. Psalm 23 refers to God leading us in the paths of righteousness. And Jesus tells us (Matthew 6:33) that we should seek personal righteousness above all else. So Psalm 23 is telling us how we should respond to Jesus’ advice.

Finally, we have this answer from Texas pastor Matt Morton in a newspaper article at The Eagle. I’ve left this one to the end because if there’s one you might want to continue reading it’s this.

Even if you haven’t read the Bible very much, you are probably familiar with that line from Psalm 23. Also known as “The Shepherd Psalm,” Psalm 23 is probably the most commonly read and quoted chapter in the entire Bible. We recite it at funerals, and we read it when we feel afraid or sad. It even shows up in movies like Titanic and pop songs like Gangsta’s Paradise by Coolio. A couple of years ago, Bible Gateway published a list of the 10 most searched-for Bible verses on its website. Five of the top 10 verses were from Psalm 23. I am certain that many people around the world have turned to Psalm 23 during this past month, as we’ve faced a terrifying global crisis and deep uncertainty about the future.

For centuries, Bible scholars have pondered the question of why this particular psalm is so deeply loved. Why do we return to it time and time again in the midst of crisis? After all, there are many Bible passages in which God is referred to as a shepherd. The Bible is full of reminders about how God provides for his people in the midst of uncertainty and fear. So what makes Psalm 23 so special?

I think Psalm 23 is powerful for a simple but surprising reason: the first-person singular pronouns. In case you’ve forgotten your middle-school grammar class, the first-person singular pronouns in English are “I,” “me,” “my,” and “mine.” In other words, King David didn’t write, “The Lord is a shepherd,” or “The Lord is the shepherd,” or even, “The Lord is our shepherd.” Instead, the first verse of Psalm 23 begins with the powerful affirmation, “The Lord is my shepherd.”

Psalm 23 personalizes the metaphor of God as our shepherd to a degree that no other biblical passage really does. Most of us know that shepherds provide for and protect their sheep. They lead their sheep to food and water. They fight off wild animals and bandits that threaten their sheep. The Scripture is full of imagery describing God as a good shepherd for the nation of Israel and for the world as a whole.

But it’s one thing to know that God is a good shepherd in general, and another thing entirely to know that he is my good shepherd…  [continue reading here]

March 10, 2021

God’s So-Called Cruelty Was Actually Belabored Patience

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:29 pm
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A year ago we discovered a devotional page at Christianity.com and decided to revisit today. This article is credited to April Motl. You’re encouraged to click the title which follows and read this there and then take a moment to discover all the resources on this website which includes everything from a verse-of-the-day to Bible trivia!

Why Do People Think God Is Cruel?

If when we read the Bible, we feel concerned about God’s character because of how He dealt with people, we are wise to learn more about the people. Truth sets us free (John 8:32). We can be sure that God is not cruel. He is love.

Since the beginning, the enemy of our souls has done his best to set a wedge between people and their loving Maker.

To Eve, he intimated that God was holding out on her… if the forbidden fruit served to make her like God and He had said she couldn’t have any, then He must have foundational motives that were less than trustworthy, perhaps even cruel, to hold back from her that way.

From that moment on, it seems Satan has taken his place amongst the two of us (humans and God) to accuse us to God (remember Job? Satan’s name literally means Accuser, also see Revelation 12:10) and God to us.

Then I heard a loud voice in heaven say: “Now have come the salvation and the power and the kingdom of our God, and the authority of his Messiah. For the accuser of our brothers and sisters, who accuses them before our God day and night, has been hurled down.

Violence in the Old Testament

When I was in seminary, I took an Old Testament history class. I was routinely stunned at the pagan practices that unfolded on the pages in history that the Bible refers to, and sometimes briefly explains, but the actuality of the events was far more graphic than Scripture detailed.

God never just smoked a people for having graven images in their entryway. People were committing X-rated, public acts with adults, but also children, and burning children alive in the public square to honor these graven images they kept in their entryways.

To be honest, I was shocked at the depth of the darkness of these rituals but also that God waited as long as He had to stop them.

If you could have been transported back in time to watch the events that led to the times in Scripture that God administered justice, you would have been screaming that He had been unjust to let it go on for so long.

But He did. He sent His prophets to speak for Him. Adjuring them to return to ways of blessing. But they didn’t. And after generations of patience, He would act.

After re-looking at all those assumptions that the God of the Old Testament was cruel and punishing, I realized how easily I can get tricked by the Enemy into accusing God in my heart.

If with some study and learning, I could see that God’s “so-called cruelty” in the Old Testament was actually belabored patience and that stopping the acts of violence and destruction was actually an act of love and protection, then it begged the question: What else had I been hasty to draw wrong conclusions about God in my own life?

There were times I had been protected, but also times I hadn’t. Times blessing flowed, and seasons of wretched aloneness and spiritual frustration. Dreams died. Prayers for desires that lined up with God’s Word came back empty. Had God been cruel then? Was He less than loving in those moments?

Was I secretly holding those experiences against God, the same way we can take the Sunday school understanding of the story of Noah’s Ark and in our hearts wonder what kind of God does stuff like that? Maybe we voice it out loud or maybe it just festers in some quiet corner of our soul in a more church “appropriate” way.

Perception Vs. Reality

I’ve had more than one relationship with an “accuser.” The sociopathic narcissistic type. It’s head-spinning awful. Up gets reported as down, in as out, and you get so twisted up inside you can’t see straight. Unfortunately, whether we are aware of it or not, we all have a relationship with the primary narcissistic Accuser.

We had one before we were even born. His words swim around us so prolifically it’s like fish swimming in water and not knowing they are wet. And he is constantly baiting us to accuse, so we can be like him, trying to twist the image of our Creator out of us, until we reflect him instead of God. And the bait to accuse God inside our hearts is easy to take.

I gave a women’s Bible study message about deception and the illustration I used was strawberry ice cream. I could pass out strawberry ice cream cups (or strawberry candies), ask everyone to taste it, and tell me what gave the ice cream its flavor.

This was some years back before most people were so aware of food industry chemicals. And everyone was sure it was strawberries. But it wasn’t strawberries. There were no real strawberries in that cheap ice cream or candy.

It was red food dye with a chemical cocktail; chemicals, that were in fact used in the making of antifreeze for your car. The fake had been swirled around until it seemed so real you could taste it and be sure it was strawberries when it wasn’t even close.

Satan does this between us and our Lord. He twists experiences we have until we aren’t sure God is trustworthy at all. Perhaps the question inside us gives birth to an all-out hostility toward God and we dare to remove Him as Judge and put ourselves in that seat to accuse God.

If we want to know who God is, we are wise not to look to the whisperings of the accuser, but to the Words of Scripture. The God of the Old Testament declared His great love over His children. The God of the New Testament showed that love more than He said it. He is the same yesterday, today, and forever (Hebrews 13:8).

Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever.

He is the God who saved Rahab and made her so completely a part of His family that she is in Christ’s lineage. And the same God who met Hagar in the desert and removed shame from the woman by the well. He came to GIVE life and to BE life to us. Satan comes only to kill, steal, and destroy (John 10:10).

The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.

Let’s not be unwise about his age-old schemes. God has told us in His Word who He is. If our experiences challenge that, then we ought to pray for wisdom to see our circumstances with more clarity, rather than being quick to accuse God.

I Am Who I Am

If when we read the Bible, we feel concerned about God’s character because of how He dealt with people, we are wise to learn more about the people. Truth sets us free (John 8:32). We can be sure that God is not cruel.

Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.”

He is love. But in those moments when we can’t see His love, let’s be honest about it. Let’s pray about it. Let’s seek His face about it and turn away from the bait of the enemy.


For further reading at Christianity.com:

Did God Condone Violence Found in the Old Testament?

Who Is the Father of Lies?

What Does it Mean That God Is Able?

What Does it Mean That God Is Not the Author of Confusion?

Will God Really Meet All My Needs?

What Does it Mean That God Works in Mysterious Ways?

Why Doesn’t God Heal Everyone?

January 5, 2021

God, Sin, and Successive Generations

Today we’re continuing with a theme we looked at yesterday.

Exactly one year ago we introduced you to Bible teacher Joanne Guarnieri Hagemeyer and her blog Grace and Peace. (Learn more about her personal story at this about page.) She’s currently offering detailed articles about the Gospel of John and also the Minor Prophets and also has a recent 3-part series about Elijah. Good reading; highly recommended! Click the title below to read this one at source.

Who Does God Punish?

“Therefore the Lord waits to be gracious to you; therefore he will rise up to show mercy to you. For the Lord is a God of justice; blessed are all those who wait for him.”

Isaiah 30:18


I think we call it the Fall of Humankind because the first humans were at the pinnacle of human experience, where everything was good, their relationships were healthy and filled with love, their work was satisfying and productive, their resources were ample, the world was their oyster, and their spiritual communion with God and each other was full.

Then, in a moment it seems, darkness fell from the serpent and the tree and the fruit, straight into their souls. Then, they fell, too. They fell from life to death, from glory to condemnation, joy to sorrow, harmony to conflict, satisfaction to suffering.

Here we are today, in this mess. Untold millennia later, we are still in that mess God described in Genesis 3. They fell from their great height, and it seems, ever since, their generations, including you and me, have been born down here in the rubble of their broken lives.

Genesis 2 and 3 is written with something of the sense of Rudyard Kipling’s “Just So” stories, in that, at least on one level, it explains why things are the way they are today.

Now, don’t get me wrong. I do see inspiration as the Holy Spirit active within the person writing. Still, the person can only write from what they otherwise know. A Stone Age author cannot speak of iron utensils, though the Spirit may give a vision of such. The best the Stone Age person might be able to do is use images and metaphors from their culture to try to describe the strange thing revealed to them.

That does make us wonder, though, about the accuracy of representation, as it is limited by current culture and language.

So, inspired, believing, but…let’s be careful about what we mean by accurate.

For instance, take a look at these two passages from the Bible, laid side-by-side.

I the Lord your God am a jealous God, punishing children for the iniquity of parents, to the third and the fourth generation of those who reject me

The word of the Lord came to me: What do you mean by repeating this proverb concerning the land of Israel, “The parents have eaten sour grapes, and the children’s teeth are set on edge”? As I live, says the Lord God, this proverb shall no more be used by you in Israel. Know that all lives are mine; the life of the parent as well as the life of the child is mine: it is only the person who sins that shall die.

From our 21st Century, Western Hemisphere, Hellenized culture and education, linear thinking, fact-based logical standpoint, there seems to be an inherent fallacy here. Either God does, or does not, punish the children for the parent’s sins. Can’t have it both ways.

I do accept the dilemma as distressing. It does seem to point to inaccuracy, and even seems to be contradictory, lending some strength to the biographical, subjectively written view of scripture.

But, what if we spread out a little bit, into the context of the passages? Can we retain a more autobiographical view of scripture? What if we read back a few verses, let’s say, in Exodus 20?

Then, we discover God is talking about something very specific: the worship and reverencing of God, over and above anything/one else. If we read forward one more verse, to verse 6? We find something strange, a promise to show steadfast love to the thousandth generation of those who love God and keep His commandments.

Trying to parse this out in a real family becomes challenging! If I love God, and follow His commandments, then He promises to show steadfast love to a thousand of my generations. But, what if my children do not love God, nor follow His commandments? Which vow will God now keep? The vow of verse 5? Or the vow of verse 6? So, there must be more going on here than contractual clauses in a covenant, even with an Biographical view.

To begin with, let’s lay the groundwork of the context.

Idols: A probable reading of this passage views idolatry as the central dysfunction of a humanist worldview. That would include, I’ll posit, anything we turn to give our lives meaning and purpose, joy and satisfaction, or even escape, that edges God out from the center. If paired with Paul’s explanation in Romans 1, then worshiping any other god than God results in futile thinking and senseless, darkened minds, claiming to be wise, but becoming fools. What kind of person would that be like? What would their home and family be like?

Jealous God: The word is qanna’ and when used of God means God’s protective love of His people.

Punishing children for the iniquity of parents

This phrase is a bit trickier. What is actually being said here is that God will “visit” the “iniquity” of the “fathers” upon the “children.” That is a little different than what “punishing” might convey.

Iniquity: The word is `avon [from Strong’s], perversity, depravity, iniquity, guilt, or punishment or consequence of/for iniquity

Fathers: The word is ‘ab [from Strong’s], father of an individual, of God as father of his people, head or founder of a household, group, family, or clan, ancestor, grandfather, forefathers — of person of people, originator or patron of a class, profession, or art, of producer, generator (fig.), of benevolence and protection (fig.), term of respect and honour, ruler or chief (spec.)

Children: The word is ben [from Strong’s], a son (as a builder of the family name), in the widest sense (of literal and figurative relationship, including grandson, subject, nation, quality or condition, etc., (like father or brother), etc.)

the thousandth generation: Again, this one is a bit tricky. The word is ‘eleph and it means a thousand as a numeral (to thousands), or as a company, such as a company of soldiers under one leader. It’s nice symmetry to say “third and fourth generation” and then to say “the thousandth generation,” but it might not mean exactly that.

I’ve underlined the meanings I have long held are intended for this text, and put together, I hear God saying,

“Do not look to anything else for your sense of meaning and purpose, for your sense of belonging, for your source of wisdom, truth, love, joy, satisfaction, or to meet your (felt and true) needs. This is idolatry, a dysfunction so profound that I will cause the consequences of it to be experienced in your whole household, every generation living there.”

To a head of household, this meant the corrupting not just of their own natures, but that of their lineage, from child to grandchild to great grandchild, all living within their compound, and under their leadership.

“If you look to Me for your source for all these things, I will amply supply through my steadfast love to all in your company, however many are in your household. (A thousand being a symbolically large number.)

To a head of household, this meant the experience of God’s steadfast love to every person, even beyond the family, to the servants and others coming within the breadth and reach of their household.

You and I experience to this day the consequences of our parents’ decisions. Addictions, alcoholism, financial decisions, where to live, what schools were chosen, family traditions, a sense of right and wrong, the list goes on and on. Those have a generational affect, for good or ill. I can well imagine how the saying God took issue with through Ezekiel came into being!

Because, it seems an untruth had seeped into the truth of what God unveiled in Exodus 20. The untruth, apparently, extrapolated God’s statement to mean that children had to pay for what their parents did, perhaps even with their lives. God cleared this up by stating in the strongest and most exhaustive terms that each person will be judged on their own merits alone, not on the merits of their parents (or anyone else).

The way I see it, there is no contradiction between these passages. Both accurately and consistently reflect the heart of God while at the same time illustrate how easy it is to misunderstand scripture, or take it to places it was never meant to go.

January 4, 2021

Justice Always Prevailed

Today’s featured author is someone I know personally, and we last shared his writing here exactly one year ago. Eric Wright is the author of both fiction and non-fiction Christian books, and is also a former missionary to Pakistan and former local church pastor. This appeared on his blog Country Inspiration. Learn more about his books at this link. Click the header below to read at source.

Where is the God of Justice?

A woman is killed by a drunken diplomat who flees so he cannot be prosecuted. A poor tenant farmer in Pakistan is cheated from his share of the crop by his landlord. “The whole of recorded history is one great longing for justice.” (Rushdoony) Atheists deny the existence of God by pointing to the apparent lack of justice in the world. They are not alone. Biblical prophets lamented the lack of justice, but without disbelieving in God. The martyrs under the throne of God cry out, “How long?”

Habakkuk complained to God, “Justice never prevails” (Hab. 1:4). Malachi wrote, Where is the God of justice?(Mal. 2:17). In Psalm 73, Asaph wrote about how his heart was grieved and embittered by the arrogance of the wicked who plan evil and scoff at heaven. “My feet had almost slipped…when I saw the prosperity of the wicked” (Psalm 73:1,2).

Asaph found an answer to his cry for justice in understanding that the wicked live in a slippery place. There is a cosmic moral law of cause and effect. Do not be deceived: God cannot be mocked. A man reaps what he sows” (Gal. 6:7). The very first Psalm declares, “The wicked are…like chaff that the wind blows away”.

In Psalm 73 Asaph saw the terrible end of the unrepentant wicked. They face everlasting fire in hell. “The wicked shall be turned into hell. All the nations that forget God” (Ps. 9:17 KJV). A cursory look at history reveals that justice delayed in not justice denied. Think of the judgement of Sodom and the whole earth during the Flood. As prophesied, Egypt, Assyria, Babylon, Persia, Greece and Rome all perished in terrible judgement. Think of Hitler, Stalin, Idi Amin, Pol Pot, Papa Doc Duvalier, and on and on to this day. The fall of cruel and proud men is terrible. No one will escape the justice of God!

Not everyone reaps in this life the evil they sow. 1 Tim. 5:24 explains: the sins of some men are obvious, reaching the place of judgement ahead of them; the sins of others trail behind them”.…only to be revealed in the final judgement.

Still, we may cry out, “Why Lord do you delay your justice?” Let us learn from Asaph. After crying out to God about the prosperity of the unjust, he realized that he had missed the first step in dealing with injustice. A search for justice must begin in our own hearts.

He cried, “when my heart was grieved and my spirit embittered, I was senseless and ignorant” (Ps. 73:21,22). He came to understand that he had failed to keep his heart pure and free from bitterness, anger and self-righteousness. Jesus taught, “Blessed are the poor in spirit…the pure in heart.” Instead of being self-righteous we need to realize that “there is not a just man upon earth, that doeth good, and sinneth not (Eccl. 7:20, KJV). That includes us.

After confessing his bitterness, Asaph remembered what he had forgotten. Although a victim of injustice, he had forgotten that, I am always with you: you hold me by my right hand. You guide me with your counsel, and afterward you will take me into glory. Whom have I in heaven but you? And earth has nothing I desire besides you…God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever” (Ps 73:23-26). The only way to live in an unjust world is to walk daily in fellowship with God. And to remember that if we have found mercy at the cross, Jesus walks with us and will never leave us. That is why he came at Christmas.

If we are to walk with God, we must understand God’s treatment of the unjust. We must remember that justice delayed is not justice denied. Delay reveals the weeping heart of God who longs to hear the repentance of the wicked in order to offer them mercy. This was Jonah’s complaint with God. He didn’t want to go to Nineveh of offer mercy, so he fled. But when he did preach in Nineveh and they repented, Jonah was angry. Why? He wanted Nineveh destroyed. He complained to God, I knew that you are a gracious and compassionate God, slow to anger and abounding in love, a God who relents from sending calamity” (Jonah 4:2).

Clearly, like Jonah, we need a heart change toward the unsaved even those especially unjust. In Romans 2:4-6 Paul warns people to not ignore or despise God’s patient kindness and tolerance.

Sigh. So many of our problems with life are due to our impatience. God is a holy and just God. But he is also merciful and longsuffering. We need to trust him. He alone knows the Day of Judgement.


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